Sam Shepard’s lost play The Tooth of Crime comes to WSC Avant Bard. Directed by Kathleen Akerley this play explores a battle of music, style, motor metaphors, and puts a unique twist on what it’s like to become an old dog running in a game that is ever changing.
The most incredible thing about this show is the original music and lyrics composed by T. Bone Burnett. The production is punctuated with vocal and musical performances by the characters and this adds a vivacious quality of life. Burnett crafts great snippets of songs to really allow the characters to express themselves in the strongest way possible. These songs are showcased particularly well during two very specific moments; the first when Crow (Tom Carman) makes his entrance – a synthetically echoed ghostly modern-techno rap— and when Hoss (John Tweel) attempts to stand his ground against his rival by wailing the blues. The songs crafted for these moments are intense and driven with passion and feeling despite their differing styles and really shine in comparison to the rest of the show.
The lighting, designed by Jason Aufdem-Brinke, adds strokes of brilliance to the drab setting; flickering lights here and there to show hits and misses on the fictitious grid of the game. Aufdem-Brinke incorporates a unique pattern of twinkling stars into the runway-like stage which makes a poignant moment for The Gazer (Graham Pilato) when he is seeing his star charts to predict the future. It is moments like these, highlighted by Aufdem-Brinke’s designs that really spark the production.
The play’s first act drags terribly, except for Ruido Ran (Cyle Durkee) appearance. The flighty DJ sweeps onto the scene for a brief moment with his sassy sashay, waving a frilly fan and shakes up the audience for a brief moment before disappearing once more. Durkee appears later in the second act as a back-up dancer and goes buck-wild with his body making for a hysterical moment in the background.
The character worth waiting for doesn’t arrive until Act II. And when he arrives you know it. Donned in a blood red jacket with goldenrod spiked hair the Crow (Tom Carman) arrives. Like a volt of lightning to Frankenstein’s unanimated corpses, Carman’s performance is electrifying. He is constantly moving in a strange choreographed pattern not dissimilar to a very fluid robot attempting ballet. His general movements are reminiscent of a highly expressive animatronic humanoid. Carman makes as much sense of the rest of them, jabbering in the jargon, but his expressive body and vivid facial expressions give the language meaning and emotion. I do wish Akerley would have directed more physical expression from her cast to guide Shepard’s heavy text along its course. Without this, it was very difficult following the text unless you were very familiar with it.
The epic face-off between Carman and Tweel falls late in the show, and it really connects with the audience as each breaks into song to express his need to be on top. Tweel belts the blues to blow Carman away, and follows with a breakdown into hysterics until he finds his character’s gruesome conclusion.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The Tooth of Crime plays through July 1, 2012 with alternating performances of The Bacchae as a part of the Spring Rep at WSC Avant Bard at Artisphere – 1101 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online.